Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz
Earlier today there was a program on the radio reviewing the standard of
ethics on U.S. college campuses. The interviewer was studying the breakout
of plagiarism in academia. I turned to a friend and said, “This will be
interesting and they will not mention Harvard College in the study”. He said,
“How do you know”? I said I would tell him after the program, “You watch, the
focus will be on business and engineering schools or students of such
studies, that is where the problem lies”. To his surprise Harvard was not
It was no surprise to me. The fact is, Harvard is hyper active about
plagiarism and even “fair use” in terms of photocopying copywritten material.
The study canvassed universities across the country and mostly
concentrated on Duke University where plagiarism is up 40% in the last five
years. Almost 50% of Duke students admitted to having cheated or copied
other peoples work, due to competition, parental pressure, preparation for
graduate school, etc. I know very little about Duke University, but friends, it
is no Harvard of the South (as they have self-titled).
So what is the difference? I can only speak of Cambridge. At Harvard there
is a fierce independence between undergraduates. There are no fraternities
allowed at Harvard and there are no sports scholarships for attending the
school. Collectivism is absentmindedly ignored. That is a long way of saying,
you are taught leadership. You will be the pioneer or expert in your field
(presumed), it is up to others to copy you. There is a strong sense of you
can not play chess and cheat because you will not survive in the real world.
If you cheat you only rip-off yourself.
Harvard students seem comfortable in their position as students. The
picture they imagine for their lives is far over the horizon. For someone to
cheat in college is too miniscule an achievement to spark interest, it is the
act of a desperate man. They have been filtered out before touching foot on
the red bricks of Cambridge.
Then too, there is the faculty. Usually, they are the renowned world experts
who write the papers and textbooks used by colleges. Being well
researched, you would be hard pressed to slide a previously written paper
past them. Harvard photocopies all student papers and exams and archives
them in case of parallax.
Harvard does try to push some school pride, too. I do not know that this has
much affect on the students. Most are there to learn and are not insecure
about their social position. Harvard will say academic dishonesty shames the
whole school itself, so your individual action has consequences for every
academic and pupil in the institution.
Most important, is a strict introduction lecture is given on arrival as to what
the rules are, a pamphlet is distributed outlining the exact rules on
plagiarism and academic dishonesty, and the draconian punishment
underscored--- you will be ejected from the university--- permanently. Zero
tolerance. If you ever have a question on how to cite other people’s
research, resources and tutors to consult surround you. The Chicago
Manual of Style or MLA Style Manual is available in over 100 libraries on
campus not including house (dorm) libraries. There will be no excuses; it is
your personal responsibility to get it right.
There have been those who push it anyhow. I remember an undergraduate
who published a best selling book. She was a star student. When it came
apparent she had plagiarized some excerpts in her book, she was expelled.
The book had nothing to do with her academic career at Harvard but the
President and Fellows of Harvard College would have none of it. There was
uproar that the punishment was too harsh and unrelated to her studies at
college. Nothing changed, she was gone. In the end, the students had very
little sympathy for her. If you are sweating, and researching, and studying,
and not sleeping, and someone else is just stealing, you resent them pretty
Clearly, at any college there will be dishonest students. Harvard had their
share. The undergraduate program had the least moral turpitude of all the
schools at the university. Humanities majors tested most honest in the
undergraduate programs. At the graduate level the Business School (HBS)
was the most dishonest followed by the Medical School (HMS), and the
Kennedy School of Government was right up there too. Though I might add,
corrupt individuals were not rampant but rather it was a contest testing the
different branches of Harvard against each other. Strange, the Divinity
School (HDS) did not come in first, and the Law School (HLS) did not come
The test I am referring to was in the 1990s and was done by some
enterprising students in the social sciences. I like it for its rudimentary grit.
They would drop a wallet with $50 or $100 dollars, with credit cards and
student I.D. etc. on the steps of the respective libraries of study. When
someone picked up the wallet, after a few minutes, a student would
approach the person with a clipboard and pretend to do a survey finding out
if they were a student, what field they were studying, etc. Then they sat back
and waited to see what happened. The humanities undergraduates returned
nearly all wallets with all contents. The Harvard Business School students
returned practically no wallets and with the least contents. Boy! Did they
take a burn when the results were published!
Harvard scores well when it comes to intellectual ethics. I would say it is
because of the Core Curriculum, mandatory courses that deal with such
matters. Harvard has no control of the undergraduates who studied
elsewhere and then later attend their graduate programs. I know they
struggle with teaching ethics at that level and it is heavily emphasized, both
the correct citations and the punishments. It is nothing less than what I
would expect from what started as a theological school.
What I do not understand is Duke Universities approach to plagiarism.
Admittedly, it is a growing problem at all universities covered in the radio
piece. Duke was the focus. A student featured had been suspended three
times for egregious plagiarism, which put off his graduation by over two
years after his starting class. When caught a fourth time it was in doubt
whether he would be able to stay at the university. Four times! Over the
course of six years, two suspended. One has to doubt the sincerity of Duke
University’s commitment to preventing plagiarism.